The worst day of my life was December 12, 2011, when I held my 2-day-old daughter as her last breath left her body.
While the doctor prepared us at her anatomy scan at 20-weeks gestation that she would likely not survive, I grasped on to hope for a miracle over the next 10 weeks until she was born. But she could not be saved.
The second worst day of my life was when I realized I no longer felt comfortable saying her name or talking about her because it made everyone else so uncomfortable. Now not only had I lost her physically, I had to keep all of my true feelings buried deep. Or at least that was my perception.
For the last almost eight years, I have worked hard on healing and recovering. I turned to writing to spare my friends and family from my pain and feelings. I have written books and blogs and articles for an outlet to express the things I didn’t think I could say out loud.
I poured myself into giving back in my community and even started a nonprofit to support grieving mothers. I have gone to healing retreats and hosted healing retreats and done the hard work to be OK with being OK.
I have allowed myself to heal. But I still think of her every day, even if every day is no longer defined by her.
For the most part, I am happy.
But the tricky thing about grief is that it doesn’t follow anyone’s rules. It often pops up when we least expect it.
A few weeks ago, I had a really bad day. I was just angry at the world, utterly sad, and just couldn’t stop the tears. I missed my baby so much and pain I hadn’t felt in a long time came surging back. I had no idea why.
When I took a step back and started thinking about the events of that weekend, I could pinpoint exactly why I’d fallen down that tunnel of grief.
My sister and brother-in-law came over to watch the Carolina game. They brought their brand new baby girl with them. I am absolutely in love with this precious baby and snuggle with her every chance I can. And I have not felt sad in her presence or thought that I had any residual issues at all. But at one particular point that evening, I looked over to see the sweet baby girl snuggled up on her mother, sound asleep. She looked just like Kathryn had in her last moments.
I barely acknowledged the prickling at my heart in that moment, and I didn’t think much about it until days later when I reflected on why I’d had such a terrible day on Sunday.
Seeing her in that peaceful moment had set off a micro-bomb inside of me that took a little time to come around. All kinds of stuff eventually bubbled up. I realized that Kathryn is no longer the baby of the family. I would never hold her like that as she slept. Sadness, this regret, lost moments all came rushing in at me and I completely lost it.
Perhaps the worst part for me in that moment is that I felt like I could not share my grief with anyone and I bore my pain in silence. This is a conditioned response to loss in our society. We are taught to be strong, to move on, to not talk about our pain and discomfort, at least not outside of the “acceptable” time-frame. And I am far outside of that window.
This is the perception that many mothers feel, especially those that lost their baby early in the pregnancy who often have their grief dismissed by people who insist they should not be so sad about a baby they never knew.
These types of responses and reactions cause many women who have lost a child to isolate themselves at the time when they need someone to be there for them the most.
If they are alone, they don’t have to lie to people when asked how they are doing, or face judgment for still being sad when others think they should have long moved on.
October 15 is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day. A day we can talk about this topic openly, without shame.
1 in 4 women in the United States will have a miscarriage, stillbirth, or death of an infant.
About 23,000 babies are stillborn each year in the United States.
And another 11,000+ will die within their first year.
These are big numbers, and responding to loss is something we have to get better about acknowledging, talking about, and supporting.
If you are one of the 1 in 4, and you want to speak out, to share your grief, I encourage you to take advantage of today, this national day of observance to bring awareness to babies lost in miscarriage, stillbirth, and as infants, and this awareness month, and share your story. Tell us about your baby.
If you are a friend or family member of a mother who has lost a pregnancy or infant, the best thing you can do is LISTEN. Don’t offer advice, don’t try to fix them, and above all else, don’t tell them how they should feel or behave.
They were our children. They existed, no matter for how long or short of a time, and we have the right to grieve for as long as it takes.